It was ten in the morning in Santa Monica, CA.
“We still can make it to 10:45 Yoga class,” my ex-girlfriend said, looking me down, sleeping on yoga mat on her floor.
“No thanks. I am going to rest until the time I am going to leave for work.”
Since I just returned from Tokyo and did not have a place to stay, I was staying at my ex-girlfriend’s apartment and that was why I was sleeping on the floor. I got up and immediately felt tired. My back hurts from being on my feet for fourteen hours for the first time in my life. Not only my back, but also my feet hurts as well. In fact, every part of my body felt tired. I tried to stand up from the floor and almost fell. I immediately put my arms to hold my body so I could get up, move my body off the yoga mat. My body did not corporate with me. Thank god I still have five hours before I get ready to go to work. The sun was getting brighter and brighter. Around two in the afternoon, I got into my car and started to drive toward the Sunset Strip. When I parked my car in the back parking lot, I saw Jun’s car. I walked up the lamp to the back stairs and entered the restaurant from the back employee entrance into the kitchen. Inside of the kitchen felt warm, and there was an unpleasant smell of food.
“Ohayo Gozaimasu,” I said to Jun.
“Ohayo Gozaimasu,” Jun replied.
I grabbed my uniform and walked upstairs to change. Jun told me to place the fish in the Sushi neta case, so I walked to the front of the restaurant to the sushi bar and turned the refrigerator on. Just like yesterday, the Southern California Sun hit directly through the window, and the inside of the dining room was hot and musty. I opened the window to let the fresh air in.
The sushi bar and the dining room had old carpet and smelled like soy sauce. It must have been several years since they put that carpet in. I am sure many customers have spilled their Soy Sauce, Sake and Beer on the carpet.
Just like yesterday, I put down the long cutting board first and took out the white towels that were soaked overnight in soap and bleach. I took the bucket in the back kitchen, washed all the towels and took them back to the sushi bar for everyone to use. I forgot to grab the white tray for the fish neta case. They have holes to let the water drip through. I noticed that they are also perfectly sized for the neta case. I walked to the back kitchen and looked at the plate in the dishwashing area. I grabbed all of them and walked back to the sushi bar, still feeling fatigued from last night. After laying the plates, I quickly placed the plastic doors for the neta case to seal the cold air coming out from the compressor. It was really hot inside of the restaurant, so it was important to make sure the inside of the case was cold enough before you start to lay out the fish. I remembered to place old fish to the left side, but I could not remember the order of the fish. I stopped my hand and tried to remember it for a minute or two and when I figured I could not remember at all, I decided to ask Jun. I grabbed a piece of paper and pencil and asked Jun to tell me the order of the fish. “From left, Taco, Hirame, Tai, Ebi, Salmon, Hamachi and Maguro,” Jun told me. This time, I remembered to write it down. I thanked him and quickly went back to the sushi bar to lay out the fish.
“What should I do next?”
“We can do Katsura•Muki.”
“Again? We did some yesterday.”
“We need more cucumbers.”
At Rock and Hollywood Sushi, we put Julienned Cucumber in almost all the rolls, so we went through a lot of Cucumbers every evening. Because running out of Cucumbers were not an option during a busy evening, we made sure to have extra Cucumbers.
Jun brought six to seven European Cucumbers from the walk-in and started to peel the plastic off. Just like yesterday, I picked one of them the began to slide my knife up and down, us I rotate the cucumber on my left hand. I felt it was slightly easier than the day before, feeling more comfortable with the Sashimi Knife. I was really careful not to cut my finger this time.
I did not know anything about Sashimi Knife, let alone about Chef Knife until I became a sushi chef. Many people think there is Sushi Knife, and the fact is there is no such thing as Sushi Knife, only Sashimi Knife called Yanagi•Ba, a Willow Blade Knife. The name comes from its distinctive long and narrow shaped blade. The most popular length for Yanagi is around 270mm to 300mm. The reason for its length is so that you can slice sashimi with one stroke and to have a straight and flat surface on a piece of fish. That way, it maximizes the contact surface of the fish to the tongue for the maximum taste. The other unique feature of Yanagi is it is single beveled, while Western Knives are double beveled. If you look at a Yanagi•Ba from the front, one side is flat, and the other side is angled. Having one flat surface helps to do Katsura Muki. There is a Japanese knife called Nakiri (Vegetable slicing) Knife, which is perfect to do Katsura Muki. Most sushi chefs in Japan would have it and use it, but I did not have my own knife yet.
The most important part of doing Katsura Muki seemed like keeping the same thickness top and the bottom. It was easy to tilt the knife unintentionally, and before I knew, I was getting not flat, but angled sheet of cucumber, which made cutting matchstick more difficult.
At four, Toshi arrived to start his shift.
“Ohayo Gozaimasu,” Jun and I said to Toshi.
“Ohayo Gozaimasu,” Toshi replied.
“Are you still working on the cucumbers?”
“Yes, sorry,” Jun said before I said anything to Toshi.
After Toshi had gone to the back kitchen, Jun told me that we had to make some Tsuma, a thinly shredded Daikon Radish Garnish for Sashimi. We used Ben•Rina, a Japanese mandarin slicer.
“You need to be really careful using this. So many times, I’ve cut my fingers, and when you do, it takes a long time to heal because you lose part of your skin.”
I peeled off the skin on Daikon, cut it into three inches in length, and started to slide on the Mandarin, hoping yet again, not to cut my fingers.